IU School of Medicine awarded $36 million NIH grant to launch Alzheimer’s disease drug discovery center

October 3, 2019

Indiana University School of Medicine has been awarded a grant expected to total $36 million over five years from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to launch a drug discovery center to accelerate the development of promising treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

The center is a strategic partnership with the Purdue Institute for Drug Discovery. It is one of only two such multi-institution teams in the nation selected as part of a new federal program intended to “improve, diversify and reinvigorate the Alzheimer’s disease drug development pipeline,” according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), which is part of the NIH and is funding the program.

“There is much work to be done to solve the mysteries of Alzheimer’s and improve the lives of individuals and families affected by this insidious and devastating disease,” IU President Michael A. McRobbie said. “To this end, Indiana University is deeply committed to expediting the development of innovative medications and treatments for Alzheimer’s disease—building upon the leading role our School of Medicine has played in discovering ways of predicting onset of the disease, presenting new therapeutic targets and developing research tools used by scientists around the world.

“We are extremely grateful to the National Institutes of Health for this extraordinary grant that will further IU’s robust efforts to advance the scientific research needed to fulfill our vision of slowing—and ultimately defeating — a disease that has resisted effective treatment for far too long.”

The IU-led center will initially focus on proteins, or targets, related to the brain’s immune system that may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. They will be culled from an extensive list of potential targets nominated by researchers at elite medical institutions across the nation as part of the NIA-led Accelerating Medicines Partnership on Alzheimer’s Disease.

There is a growing body of evidence that certain genes associated with the immune system may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease, opening a new avenue for research and drug discovery. This focus on the immune system is consistent with IU’s Precision Health Grand Challenge initiative.

The establishment of the NIA-funded drug discovery centers comes at a time when many pharmaceutical companies are scaling back efforts in the area or refocusing their strategies following setbacks of expensive, late-stage drug trials. The goal is to develop high-quality research tools and new technologies needed to broaden the number of targets being investigated, and for universities to conduct the earliest stages of drug discovery, eliminating some of the risk for pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms and other investors.

“The challenges of finding effective medicines for Alzheimer’s disease are numerous and complex,” said Alan Palkowitz, a senior research professor at IU School of Medicine who will lead the center. “It is going to require a very strong ecosystem that is enriched with scientific diversity and new collaborative models. The emergence of centers like this, which can not only perform cutting-edge science but also inform the community with results, are going to be important partners with all groups who are committed to creating breakthrough therapies.”

Palkowitz was recruited to IU School of Medicine through the IU Precision Health Initiative in late 2018 after 28 years at Eli Lilly and Co., where he most recently served as vice president of discovery chemistry research. The center’s co-principal investigator is Bruce Lamb, executive director of the Stark Neurosciences Research Institute, Roberts Family Professor of Alzheimer’s Disease Research and director of the NIA-funded IU/Jackson Laboratory Alzheimer’s Disease Precision Models Center at IU School of Medicine.

For more on the new drug discovery center, visit the Newsroom.